Why is buying computer hardware so much work? To be sure, there are some components like power supplies, most peripherals, and so on that are pretty straightforward to choose. Even some of the more complex hardware, like hard drives and motherboards are pretty easy to select; you decide which features you need, and find which parts have those features. But selecting CPUs and video cards is nearly impossible.
A long time ago, CPUs were easy to select; you just bought the highest clock cycle CPU you could find. You chose Intel because you did not have a choice (or much of one, at least; non-Intel CPUs tended to not be very good). Now, there are dozens of families of CPUs from more than one manufacturer (Intel, AMD, and more, if you count the less mainstream CPUs). Each family has its own benefits and drawbacks, and pure CPU speed is less of a determining factor for end game performance than it used to be. Would a dual core CPU at 2.0 gHz per core be better than a single core CPU at 3.0 gHz? It all depends on your needs. What about cache? Coprocessors? And so on. At the very moment, the choice is fairly easy: the Core 2 Duo (Conroe) CPUs from Intel are beating the competition, even when compared to much more expensive CPUs. But no one expects that to last, and the last month or so has been the first time in a while that CPU selection was fairly easy. But even when it has been confusing, the simple rule that never went wrong was to get as much cache, clock cycles, and cores as possible.
Video cards, on the other hand, have never been simple, and probably never will be. This is what I have been stuck on for some time with my recent quest to upgrade and revamp my home network and computers. Picking out everything else was pretty painless, with the exception of deciding how much I wanted to spend on hard drives and if I preferred RAID 1 with two smaller drives to one smallish drive for data and a big drive for backups (I decided to go with RAID 1, it was cheaper and will be faster). But the video card is still killing me.
I went to Tom's Hardware Guide, and I will tell you, that site is positively worthless. I really do not see why people treat it like it is the source of all hardware information. It is not. I read the guide to video cards, and what the site calls a "about $200 video card" was listed for no less than $250; indeed, even on the site's links to vendors, they were listing that "about $200 video card" for "about $300"! The recommendations could not even be found at half of the sites that I prefer to shop at.
I think video cards are a hoax at this point; someone wants me to give up and just spend whatever my maximum budget is, and hope that I get the best card possible. It is ridiculous.
Buying computer hardware gives me severe heartburn. Following hardware trends is an exercise in futility, as whatever I learn today is useless tomorrow. There are no good ways to directly compare too many components, and all too often my choice is to pay for features I do not want, or not get features I do want to remain within budget. Overall, the process kills me and I wish it was easier.
Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.